My Dog Prefers Cat Food. What Gives?


It’s not uncommon for dogs to show interest in cat food. Many dog owners have experienced their canine trying to eat food meant for felines. This is likely because cat food tends to have stronger smells and flavors from higher amounts of animal protein and fat. The meaty taste is simply more appealing to a dog’s sensitive sense of smell compared to typical dog food. While trying cat food may seem harmless for dogs, there are some important risks, nutritional issues, and behavioral concerns for allowing dogs to eat cat food regularly.

Why Dogs Prefer Cat Food

Dogs are often drawn to cat food because it has higher fat and protein contents, which make it more palatable and appetizing. According to the AKC, cat food contains about 30-40% protein, whereas dog food contains only 18-25%. The increased fat and protein provide strong meat flavors and aromas that naturally appeal to a dog’s taste buds and olfactory senses.

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require higher amounts of protein and fat from animal sources in their diet. Dog foods contain more carbohydrates like grains and vegetables. The rich animal ingredients like chicken, fish, and meat by-products create an enticing aroma and taste for dogs.

Additionally, the smaller kibble size and softer textures of many cat foods can be more pleasing to eat. So when a dog gets access to cat food, the fat, protein, textures, and aromas can make it difficult to resist.

Risks of Feeding Cat Food

There are several risks associated with feeding your dog cat food on a regular basis:

Nutritional imbalance – Cat food is formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of cats, which are different from the needs of dogs. Cat food is higher in protein and fat. It also contains more vitamins and minerals like taurine that cats require but dogs can synthesize on their own. Feeding cat food long-term can lead to nutritional excess or deficiency in dogs.

Weight gain – The higher fat and calorie content in cat food compared to dog food can quickly lead to weight gain in dogs. Obesity is a growing problem in dogs and can contribute to many health issues. Sticking to dog food appropriate for your dog’s size, age and activity level is important.

According to this source, while an occasional nibble likely won’t cause issues, regularly feeding cat food can negatively impact your dog’s health over time. It’s best to transition back to a nutritionally balanced dog food formulated for your dog’s needs if you notice a preference for cat food developing.

Transitioning Back to Dog Food

Changing your dog’s food too abruptly can upset their stomach and cause diarrhea, so it’s important to transition gradually when switching back from cat food to dog food. The general recommendation is to transition over 5-7 days (Chewy, AAHA).

Start by mixing a small amount of the new dog food in with the cat food, about 25% dog food and 75% cat food. Slowly increase the proportion of new dog food over the next few days until your dog is eating 100% dog food after 5-7 days. Going slowly allows their digestive system time to adapt to the new food.

If your dog has a sensitive stomach, you may want to transition over 10-14 days. Monitor your dog for vomiting, diarrhea or constipation during the transition. If you notice any issues, slow the transition by keeping the ratio of new to old food consistent for a few extra days before continuing to increase the new food.

Make Dog Food More Appealing

There are several ways to make dry dog food more enticing for picky eaters:

Warm it up. Serving dry food slightly warmed can really increase appeal. Microwave it for 10-15 seconds or add some warm water to bring out the aroma before serving. Be sure to test it isn’t too hot before feeding your dog.

Mix in wet food. Adding a spoonful of canned dog food, broth, or plain yogurt can make the kibble more palatable. The moisture and flavor can make the dry food more appetizing. Just don’t overdo it, as too much wet food can upset your dog’s stomach.

Use puzzle feeders. Feeding your dog from a puzzle toy or activity feeder instead of a bowl helps make eating more mentally stimulating. The extra challenge makes them “work” for their food. Popular options are puzzle balls, snuffle mats, treat dispensers, etc. This taps into their natural foraging instincts.

Check out this article for more tips: Dog Stopped Eating Dry Food? How to Make It More Appealing

Feed Dogs Separately

One of the best ways to prevent your dog from eating the cat’s food is to simply feed them separately. Feed your cat in a closed room like the bathroom or bedroom, and keep the door closed so your dog can’t gain access during mealtimes. As recommended by the AKC, you should feed your pets in different rooms with the doors closed.

You can also place your cat’s food bowls up on a counter or table so they are completely out of your dog’s reach. Just be sure to monitor your cat while they eat to ensure safety. Cats feel most comfortable eating in peaceful settings without dogs hovering nearby. Feed your dog elsewhere in the home so they are less likely to notice the cat food.

By keeping your dog and cat separated during meals with physical barriers, you can stop your dog from eating the tempting cat food. Be vigilant about keeping doors closed and preventing access until your pets have finished eating.

Exercise and Enrichment

It’s important to meet your dog’s needs for physical activity and mental stimulation. Dogs that don’t get enough exercise and enrichment can develop behavioral issues like destructive chewing, hyperactivity, and aggression. Exercise reduces stress and provides an outlet for your dog’s energy. Enrichment activities like puzzle toys, nose work, and trick training give your dog’s brain a workout.

Try increasing your dog’s daily walks, playing more interactive games like fetch and tug, and providing food puzzle toys like Kongs. Rotating different enrichment activities will help keep your dog engaged and prevent boredom. Consider hiring a dog walker or taking your dog to daycare for extra activity on some days. Meeting your dog’s needs for physical and mental stimulation will make them less likely to seek out inappropriate items like cat food for entertainment.

According to one source, providing adequate physical and mental stimulation is crucial for curbing food-motivated behaviors like stealing cat food. Regular walks, play time, and enrichment help satisfy your dog so they are less tempted by the cat’s food.


When to See the Vet

In most cases, dogs eating cat food occasionally won’t cause serious issues. However, you should contact your vet if your dog refuses to eat dog food, experiences persistent diarrhea, or becomes lethargic after eating cat food.

Diarrhea is a common side effect from the dietary changes when switching between dog and cat food. But if it lasts more than a day or two, it could lead to dehydration. Contact your vet if the diarrhea continues or if you notice signs of dehydration like loss of appetite, dry mouth, excessive thirst, weakness, or vomiting.

If your dog stops eating their regular dog food after being fed cat food, it’s a sign their digestive system is struggling with the diet change. A decreased appetite or refusal to eat lasting more than a day requires a vet visit to rule out underlying conditions.

Lethargy and fatigue after eating cat food can indicate gastrointestinal distress or malnutrition from the improper diet. If your dog seems abnormally tired and shows no interest in exercise or play after eating cat food, take them to the vet.

Your vet can assess your dog’s symptoms, run tests if needed, provide supportive care for dehydration or appetite loss, and get their diet back on track. Don’t delay contacting your vet if any concerning symptoms arise after your dog eats cat food.

Prevent Access to Cat Food

One of the most effective ways to stop a dog from eating a cat’s food is to prevent access to it. Here are some tips:

Use an elevated feeding station for the cat that is too high for the dog to reach. Many pet stores sell stations that attach to the wall or that have a platform the cat can jump on to eat. You can also place the cat’s food bowls up on a counter or cat tree.

Invest in a microchip feeder. These feeders will only open when scanned by the matching microchip implanted in your cat. As soon as your cat moves away, the lid closes so the dog cannot access the food. Petsafe and SureFeed make popular models.

Feed cats in a room with a baby gate installed that has openings too small for your dog to get through. Use latches on doors to keep your dog out of rooms where the cat food is placed.

By restricting access, you remove the opportunity for your dog to eat the tempting cat food.


In conclusion, if your dog prefers cat food there are some important considerations. Cat food is not formulated to meet a dog’s nutritional needs and can lead to deficiencies over time. It’s important to transition your dog back to a species-appropriate commercial or homemade diet. Make dog food more enticing by warming it up, adding mix-ins, or feeding your pets separately. Exercise, play, and enrichment are also key for a healthy, happy dog. See your vet if your dog refuses dog food or has any symptoms of illness. Prevent access to cat food by keeping food bowls elevated or in separate rooms. With some patience and creativity, you can get your dog eating nutritious dog food again. Proper canine nutrition is essential for your dog’s health and wellbeing.

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